Maurice McNeil Photography
By Syd Collier, PYR Ambassador
I hope this message finds you healthy & safe, may you feel the love that is woven inside waiting for you.
In an effort to find some clarity & understanding around current events I began to read old journal entries. I stumbled upon one that I wrote last year while sitting underneath a large outstretched tree in autumn, as it released its leaves to the 80 degree breeze, uncharacteristic to the season.
“9.10.2019 This [past summer] has been one of the most fiery summers that I have ever experienced. It has felt like a tire spinning at 90 miles an hour against scorched asphalt. I often feel that we are all moving so fast, that we are quite literally speeding up time. It is whirling past us, and we are so busy working to propel momentum forward that we are missing the experience of what we are creating along the way”
Always striving for maximum productivity, each of us racing to continuously produce so as to not be left behind. This way of living has created problems at a rate faster than we can recognize them, much less solve them. From this perspective I am able to see why we are in the situation we are in.
The current Pandemic has introduced Quarantines, Social Distancing and Stay in Place, to our way of life, which are all practices that are forcing us to slow down. In my own living experience I can feel the resistance to such practices that have felt like a restriction of movement. I am aware of my flight or fight response going off, this urge to move and act without having anything to immediately move or respond to. I recognize this resistance as a symptom of functioning in a society that values productivity and profits over wellbeing and sanity.
However, this does not discourage me, I am beginning to see this time as an opportunity to reprogram my way of being in the world to one that is more mindful, by moving in a slower, more intentional way. I feel motivated to take the time to deeply listen to myself, my intuition and my ancestors. I believe that the presence cultivated through mindful living will be critical to our survival. By developing the ability to direct our awareness, so that we may remember what if feels like to be fully embodied.
There seems to be this conditioned belief that the type of listening that requires one to slow down and feel is a “luxury” that there is rarely time for, especially when navigating the fast pace that we have demanded our world to move at. Acknowledging this conditioned belief brings to mind a quote by Audre Lorde where she argues against such conditioning.
“But giving into the fear of feeling and working to capacity is a luxury only the unintentional can afford, and the unintentional are those who do not wish to guide their own destinies”
We are being given an opportunity to reevaluate our way of living. An invitation to move beyond fear & anxiety so that we may begin to use our deepest feelings to inform the visions we have for our future, and so we may become more intentional in our movements to actualize them.
In the words of Octavia Butler….
“Most of all, our tomorrow is the child of our today. Through thought and deed, we exert a great deal of influence over this child, even though we can’t control it absolutely. Best to think about it, though. Best to try to shape it into something good. Best to do that for any child.”
Below is a poem that I wanted to share in this time of uncertainty. As trying as these times are for people around the world, there is good that can come from our endurance together and the connection we cultivate with ourselves and the earth that continues to sustain us. We are all in this together and I hope you are all safe and well.
An Imagined Letter from Covid-19 to Humans
Stop. Just stop.
It is no longer a request. It is a mandate.
We will help you.
We will bring the supersonic, high speed merry-go-round to a halt
We will stop
the frenetic, furied rush of illusions and “obligations” that keep you from hearing our
single and shared beating heart,
the way we breathe together, in unison.
Our obligation is to each other,
As it has always been, even if, even though, you have forgotten.
We will interrupt this broadcast, the endless cacophonous broadcast of divisions and distractions,
to bring you this long-breaking news:
We are not well.
None of us; all of us are suffering.
Last year, the firestorms that scorched the lungs of the earth
did not give you pause.
Nor the typhoons in Africa,China, Japan.
Nor the fevered climates in Japan and India.
You have not been listening.
It is hard to listen when you are so busy all the time, hustling to uphold the comforts and conveniences that scaffold your lives.
But the foundation is giving way,
buckling under the weight of your needs and desires.
We will help you.
We will bring the firestorms to your body
We will bring the fever to your body
We will bring the burning, searing, and flooding to your lungs
that you might hear:
We are not well.
Despite what you might think or feel, we are not the enemy.
We are Messenger. We are Ally. We are a balancing force.
We are asking you:
To stop, to be still, to listen;
To move beyond your individual concerns and consider the concerns of all;
To be with your ignorance, to find your humility, to relinquish your thinking minds and travel deep into the mind of the heart;
To look up into the sky, streaked with fewer planes, and see it, to notice its condition: clear, smoky, smoggy, rainy? How much do you need it to be healthy so that you may also be healthy?
To look at a tree, and see it, to notice its condition: how does its health contribute to the health of the sky, to the air you need to be healthy?
To visit a river, and see it, to notice its condition: clear, clean, murky, polluted? How much do you need it to be healthy so that you may also be healthy? How does its health contribute to the health of the tree, who contributes to the health of the sky, so that you may also be healthy?
Many are afraid now.
Do not demonize your fear, and also, do not let it rule you. Instead, let it speak to you—in your stillness,
listen for its wisdom.
What might it be telling you about what is at work, at issue, at risk, beyond the threats of personal inconvenience and illness?
As the health of a tree, a river, the sky tells you about quality of your own health, what might the quality of your health tell you about the health of the rivers, the trees, the sky, and all of us who share this planet with you?
Notice if you are resisting.
Notice what you are resisting.
Stop. Just stop.
Ask us what we might teach you about illness and healing, about what might be required so that all may be well.
We will help you, if you listen.
by Kristin Flyntz
Atha yoga anushasanam
Now, the practice of yoga begins.
This is the first offering of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. I’m no Sutra scholar but to me this sentence invokes the truth that yoga practice can only happen in the present moment.
For many of us, daily routines have collapsed. Perhaps this has affected your practice. Maybe you can no longer attend your favorite studio class or you’ve lost your lunchtime meditation at work. Maybe you are missing the community aspect of a group practice or the way you would roll out your mat next to a friend. It’s just not the same on your own.
I feel that way, too.
I miss our community. I’d rather show up and practice with a group than move and breathe alone in my bedroom. But we don’t have those options now. Now, we have to show up for ourselves.
And now is the time for the practice of yoga to begin.
My best friend from high school and I talk weekly and conclude our conversations by giving each other homework. Usually it’s that thing you know you should do but need the extra accountability to actually do it.
Lately, for me, the homework has been daily yoga asana and meditation practice.
I know I need this because it helps keep my anxiety at bay. Even though I’m alone, somehow these practices still make me feel more connected and supported.
As you may know, Project Yoga Richmond now offers a membership platform through which anyone can access a variety of yoga and meditation practices shared by PYR Ambassadors. This benefits you and also helps support PYR during this time when the studio must be closed and other fundraising efforts may be hindered. Thera are multiple levels of monthly fees to help make these practices more affordable and accessible.
Join us, if you can.
To me, what matters most is that we continue to practice, that we try to find ways to draw yoga into the “new now.” It’s needed more than ever.
So, if you care to participate — and I hope you will — this is your homework, just as it’s mine. Until we meet face to face again, make yoga and meditation a part of your new daily routine. It’s one thing we can do to keep our footing when it feels like the rug has been pulled out from underneath.
I’ll close this reflection the way I always close my classes — with gratitude.
Thank you for showing up to practice being present and mindful in these challenging times. Thank you of taking care of yourself so that you can help care for a hurting community and world. Thank you for supporting Project Yoga Richmond with your (remote) presence and your resources.
And now I invite you to think of all the things for which you feel grateful today. Let them arise in your mind and on your heart.
May we be well in body, mind, and spirit. May we find contentment in the now. May we be at peace with ourselves and one another. And may we be free.
We at Project Yoga Richmond continue to monitor the rapidly evolving circumstances around COVID-19 and its impact on our community and beyond. We value your health above all else and the yogic principle of ahimsa (non-harming) guides us in all our decisions. So it is with a heavy heart that I announce that the PYR studio will close until further notice.
We know that many in our community seek solace in our studio and value the steadfast guidance and support of the PYR Ambassadors. PYR also depends on your financial contributions at our pay-what-you-can studio to fund a multitude of community outreach programs, expanding access to yoga and mindfulness for everyone in every corner of our city.
In an effort to maintain community while following recommendations for social distancing, we launched an online membership platform where you can remotely access yoga and mindfulness content from your beloved PYR ambassadors. As a member, you’ll receive regular content to support your practice at home and the pride of fueling work that matters to you.
Once you activate your membership, you’ll be notified of new content as soon as it’s posted. Stay tuned as we begin to post special offerings later this week.
Our community is strong and I have no doubt that we will weather this season together. We hope you’ll choose to support us with an online membership or by contributing directly on our website.
I appreciate your continued flexibility and support of Project Yoga Richmond as we work to ensure the well-being of all in our community.
Interim Executive Director
Keep it Movin’!
Getting older isn’t easy, right? As we age, our bodies lose bone density and cardiovascular stamina, leaving us at greater risk for health problems. Unfortunately, inactivity also increases with age. For seniors, inactivity contributes to risk of falling and fracturing bones and as well as the likelihood of contracting heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. That’s why we partner with Senior Center East to offer free yoga to seniors.
Nessie Riddick attends yoga every week. “It helps me loosen up some. Because I’m stiff. I have arthritis and that helps me a lot,” she says. “I have a lot on my mind. I worry about my kids even though they’re all grown. But it gives my mind a little ease, a little rest, and I just concentrate on the yoga.”
Studies show that older adults obtain significant health benefits with just a moderate amount of physical activity. It also helps seniors control weight and reduce depression and anxiety. When done in community, like PYR’s class, yoga helps decrease feelings of isolation.
Barbara Brown, Coordinator for Senior Center East, has witnessed the effects of PYR’s class over the past several years. “Whether it’s their feet for walking or their fingers for opening jars or cans for cooking, or just helping to build their stamina…they realize that each of the activities are pertinent to a certain part of their bodies and they appreciate that.”
One student even ditched her cane after a year of yoga. “Someone’s knees got so much stronger that they did not need to walk with helping devices,” PYR Ambassador Twylah Ekko explains. “That’s super exciting because I know one day I’m going to need all the tricks and tips that I offer to them. I’ve seen how much they improve and I’m inspired to always keep moving even when things hurt.”
Another senior, Nellie Mitchell, knows that practicing yoga has strengthened her joints. “It helps you be able to move around and it keeps you with an open mind. It keeps you from deteriorating because if you sit still long enough your joints will deteriorate.” Nellie also appreciates the opportunity to try something new. “I want to learn everything I can. It’s a challenge to do different things that you never did before. You’re never too old to learn.”
PYR has partnered with Senior Center East for many years and we hope to continue for many years to come. “There is no cost for our partnership with Project Yoga, and there are many benefits,” Ms. Brown explains. “In order for this partnership to continue there is a need for persons in the community who can afford to do so to make a contribution. It is definitely benefiting the seniors here in the East End of Richmond.”
We hope that when you make a contribution or pay for your studio class, you’ll remember that you are simultaneously improving quality of life for seniors in our community. At Project Yoga Richmond, your practice really does have power.
What is the difference
Between your experience of Existence
And that of a saint?
The saint knows
That the spiritual path
Is a sublime chess game with God
And that the Beloved
Has just made such a Fantastic Move
That the saint is now continually
Tripping over Joy
And bursting out in Laughter
And saying, “I Surrender!”
Whereas, my dear,
I am afraid you still think
You have a thousand serious moves.
― Hafiz, I Heard God Laughing: Poems of Hope and Joy
I first heard this poem years ago when my yoga teacher read it before class and again before shivasana. I was moved by its simple yet profound message then, and am moved by it still, whenever I come across it.
Clearly if these words move me so much, I must be the person who still thinks, “I have a thousand serious moves.” Even writing this, I have a rueful smile on my lips.
A regular yoga practice allows us to cultivate becoming expert observers of our minds; the patterns of thought we are mired in, the meanings we ascribe to circumstances, the beliefs we grip tenaciously. Through the consistency of returning to our mats, and “being in” our bodies, it becomes simpler to recognize we are persons with thoughts but we are not our thoughts, thus creating more space for “tripping over joy.”
We may take our yoga practice somewhat seriously, but we don’t necessarily need to take ourselves so seriously.
Joan R. Shepherd, FNP
PYR Board of Directors
Love Your Body: Yoga for Women class instructors: Morgan Howell, Billie Carroll, Izzy Shurte, and Kisha Hughes
Every Sunday at the PYR studio, women* in Richmond come to do something truly revolutionary: love their bodies. Despite all the negative messages they receive about how their bodies should look and how they should behave in them, women step into a safe place where treating your body with acceptance and loving-kindness is paramount.
PYR Ambassador Izzy Shurte created the Love Your Body: Yoga for Women class in 2016. “It is a radical act for a woman to proclaim love for her body,” she reflects. “I wanted to hold space for healing and reclamation to take place.”
As a therapist who specializes in eating disorders and as someone in recovery from an eating disorder herself, Izzy is intimately acquainted with women who feel at odds with their bodies.
She reached out to three other PYR Ambassadors: Billie Carroll, Morgan Howell, and Kisha Hughes to teach the class with her. “It’s lovely that even though we’re four different teachers there’s a similar energy and intention we all bring,” Morgan says. “What’s created through this class is larger than one particular instructor.”
Kisha places a special focus on making each class inviting, safe, and warm. She intends to “give students the opportunity to focus on simply existing without expectation.”
Billie also teaches Y12SR (Yoga for 12 Step Recovery) at the PYR studio and at Chesterfield County Jail. “I’ve had many women attend Y12SR class or Yoga of Recovery series to address their addictions, most saying that the Love Your Body class was the catalyst,” she says.
Billie often shares her own struggles with body dysmorphia in class. “I have heard other women my size say they can’t do yoga. I teach how to work with ‘our blessings.’”
Come see for yourself! Love Your Body: Yoga for Women meets every Sunday from 12:30-1:30 p.m. at the PYR studio (6517 Dickens Pl.). We invite you to come, be, and heal.
*Project Yoga Richmond is a trans and gender non-conforming inclusive space.
Project Yoga Richmond offers Y12SR, classes that combine yoga with 12-step recovery programs, as well as the latest research on trauma healing and neurobiology.
I have worked in the field of addiction medicine for a long time. Over the years, as I have grown in my knowledge of this field, I have also grown in my knowledge of yoga.
Depending on where my patients—who mostly find our clinic to detox off opioids, heroin, methadone, or alcohol—are in their stage of change, I offer yoga as an integral tool.
I have to be a little savvy about bringing up yoga. While it has clearly infiltrated western culture, many of the people with whom I work have ideas about yoga and do not see themselves wearing spandex and inhabiting a rubber mat for an hour.
But, I offer a nibble.
I introduce, for instance, the idea of becoming a witness to one’s experience or taking the risk of staying present for momentary discomfort. Or noticing the relentless and repetitive messages that appear on the movie screen of the mind, noticing the habitual reactions that accompany these messages, and the fierce impulse to escape the pain.
This is indeed the practice of yoga. As the 2nd Sutra of Patanjali states, “Yoga is the stilling of the modifications of the mind.” Or, in Sanskrit, “Yogas citta vrtti nirodha.”
Addiction has a lot to do with avoiding discomfort. Guiding a person to be at home with their own thoughts, physical sensations, and feelings is an imperative step for any successful recovery. A regular practice of yoga postures helps people bring presence to TEAMS (thoughts, emotions, associations, memories, and sensations) while staying rooted in the reality of intentional movements.
Project Yoga Richmond offers Y12SR, classes that combine yoga with 12-step recovery programs, as well as the latest research on trauma healing and neurobiology. This program serves people recovering from all manifestations of addiction, from behavioral addictions to substance abuse, and creates a safe place on the mat. Family members of people with addictions are also welcome. Teachers of this program receive certification to teach after completing proper training.
This aspect of programming for people with behavioral and substance use disorders is how I first became aware of PYR’s presence in Richmond. I have recommended it to my patients for years.
If you or a loved one is looking for another tool for your recovery toolbox, I heartily endorse the powerful programming offered at Project Yoga Richmond. The staff or any of the Board Members would be more than happy to answer your questions. Spandex not required.
Joan R. Shepherd, FNP
PYR Board of Directors
PYR Ambassador Izzy Shurte explains how she incorporates these two concepts into her practice
Two important Sanskrit terms that I use nearly constantly in my practice, in teaching and in life, are Abhyasa and Vairagya from Patanjalili’s Yoga Sutra 1.12 which states Abhyasa Vairagyabhyam Tannirodhah. Abhyasa is a word that means a practice, a discipline or study. Vairagya means non-attachment or disinclination. Tannirodhah is a composite of a couple of words that means to restrain or control and specifically restraining the turbulent turning of the mind.
On its face, this verse is a practical bit of instruction for meditation. Pick an Abhyasa, a technique or practice, and repeat it. Repetition or habit is another translation of Abhyasa. When the mind or body strays away from the practice, Vairagya (detach from the distraction), returning to the Abhyasa. This works well as a basic introduction to the skill of meditation, which requires lots of toggling back and forth between the skills of Abhyasa and Vairagya and results in mind states that are more settled and less surly.
This verse can also be broadly applied to skillful living. Moment to moment, it is helpful to have clarity regarding what our Abhyasa is. In other words, what are we cultivating or inviting into our lives? Moment to moment awareness of the direction we wish to travel can help us make choices that materialize our heart’s desire. Confusion around direction can create detours and suffering. With a clear understanding of what we are practicing, we can also filter out what is extraneous or even incompatible with what we want. Upon recognition that we are off course and closely tied to our Abhyasa, we have the power to let go, Vairagya, refocus and correct.
At the metaphorical level, contemplating these concepts acknowledges that at any given moment we are either moving in the direction of what we want…or doing something else. In order to cultivate and manifest what is in our heart (Abhyasa), we must be honest with ourselves about what is NOT compatible with that vision (Vairagya). We may need to clean house and let go of patterns that are currently draining us of time and energy and essentially taking up space where new more helpful patterns may emerge.